In Praise of Rob Long, Andrew Breitbart, and the West Coast
In case you haven't picked it up already, the newest issue of National Review comes highly recommended from yours truly. I can't remember the last time that one issue of a political magazine had so many sharp pieces (not to be missed are Kevin D. Williamson's cover story on the LDS church and our own James Lileks' razor-sharp riff on people who are too good for Olive Garden). But what really struck me was our esteemed Rob Long's remembrance of Andrew Breitbart, "The Interrupted Narrator."
I know, I know. You've been saturated with Breitbart tributes over the past few weeks and you probably think you've heard it all. But the passage that jumped out at this Southern Californian wasn't even about Andrew per se as much as the style he embodied:
[Breitbart] did it all from his beloved Los Angeles, driving his kids to school and back, listening to his favorite 1980s pop music, nine conversations going at once. He was a true son of the West Coast -- apart from the East Coast, establishment way of doing business. On the East Coast, you try to control what's printed in the newspaper. On the West Coast, you figure out a way to put the newspaper out of business. On the East Coast, you try to shape news coverage of a certain story. On the West Coast, you become the story itself. On the East Coast, you wear a coat and tie. On the West Coast, you shamble around, as Andrew often did, in shorts and a misbuttoned shirt. On the East Coast, this looks like work. On the West Coast, it looks like fun.
This passage of brilliant observational anthropology can only be so concise by being so thoroughly correct. Perhaps I was too thoroughly marinated in the culture of my native Southern California to process Washington with anything approaching objectivity during my years there, but my big takeaway from our nation's capital was this: it's a dreary place. Not physically, so much; it would take a pretty hard heart not to be moved by Washington's stately architectural grandiosity. But, especially for a conservative, there's something suffocating about an atmosphere where politics is the be all and end all of everyone's life. After a while, you want to break up hour three of Beltway talk at McCormick & Schmick's by asking, "Doesn't anyone here ever go to a ball game? Or a movie?"
Breitbart was representative of what I consider a fundamentally healthy development in the conservative movement: a recognition that it's no more advisable to centralize our intellectual and activist leadership in Washington than it is to centralize political power there. Washington is a company town and it suffers from all of the pathologies associated with that status: insularity, myopia, and a blinkered reverence for conventional wisdom.
Of course, certain caveats apply. We need those front-line troops in Washington, just not to the exclusion of voices elsewhere in the country. And there's a point beyond which the intellectual restlessness of the West Coast becomes a pronounced liability (there may be no bigger problem in California's decaying political system than the fact that the average Golden State voter can't be bothered to pay attention to it).
Still, there's a virtue to prominent conservatives who spend their days surrounded by the rhythms of ordinary life, within the reach of more individuals who are shaped by federal legislation than individuals who are shaping it. Whether it's Andrew Breitbart on the Westside of Los Angeles or Mark Steyn in the woods of New Hampshire, some of our brightest lights have already shown the virtues of this kind of variety. My hope is that the trend continues unabated. I can't go back to McCormick & Schmick's.